Quality, Honesty and Keeping it Real

Since 2012 Arts Council England have been working with a range of arts and cultural organisations to devise and test a set of ‘quality principles’ to underpin high quality work by, with and for young people.

The ‘quality’ of experience is also a key consideration within Circuit. This article outlines how Circulate members have defined ‘quality’ and identified questions that need to be considered in order to evaluate the ‘quality’ of the experiences that people have had within Circuit.

Circulate members across galleries have been supported by the Critical friend, during the first two years of Circuit, to plan and facilitate their own ‘sense making’ sessions with the wider core groups at their galleries, to ascertain not just the value and impact, but also the quality, of their engagement in the Circuit programme. To consider the quality of something demands that we also consider what it is that constitutes quality, in any specific context.

Exchanges between the Circuit Critical Friend and Circulate members have therefore involved a set of discussions about the notion of quality, what it means in the context of Circuit and what constitutes quality for young people involved in the programme.

These conversations have indicated an awareness amongst Circulate members of the subjective nature of the term quality but have also indicated a desire to be able to go beyond this and articulate exactly what it is about an event, exhibition or activity, which makes it feel like a ‘quality experience’.

The conversations have generated interesting exchange about what is at the heart of a ‘quality experience’, for example, at Kettle’s Yard / Wysing, ‘honesty’ was seen to be a key factor.

Consequent indicators of quality, such as something being ‘memorable’ or ‘talked about’ or feeling ‘proud’ of something you have been involved in, are now being used within Circulate members’ reflective processes and are evident in content produced by young people who have been involved in the discussions. For example, a review of the Whitworth opening was written by a Circulate member of the Whitworth Young Contemporaries, following a discussion about quality and incorporates comments such as ‘something I will remember for a very long time!’ and ‘a night to be proud of.’

These ‘quality indicators’, which echo many of the ACE seven principles, (such as ‘doing something ‘real’) and a set of relevant questions have thereby been identified and used in galleries and at various events. (These questions are included below.)

The conversations have also led to different activities and processes being developed and used at different galleries. For example, a group discussion took place at Firstsite, using and testing the usefulness of 3 or 4 of the questions listed below, which was audio recorded. Also at Firstsite, Circulate members devised a Test tube activity, which worked well during their Winter Gathering, whereby questions relating to quality were written on test tubes and people put counters in the relevant tubes to indicate what they thought about the quality of the event.

Circulate members have also decided to use their journals to reflect and expand on their notes, in ways that articulate the quality of their experiences. Tate Collective Liverpool have referred to this strand of their evaluation work as ‘the silent processes.’

Quality Questions
On the basis of these conversations the following questions have been agreed as relevant to dialogue that seeks to establish the ‘quality’ of Circuit experiences:

  1. Have you been engaged, inspired and / or excited by the work? If so how / why?
  2. Has it felt purposeful? If so, how, if not, why not?
  3. Has the work been based on real experiences, for example, of curating, critiquing or delivering? If so, what have these been?
  4. Have you been able to be open and honest? If so, how, if not, why not?
  5. Have you been able to experiment, explore and find things out? If so, how, if not, why not?
  6. Were you / are you actively involved (for example, do you make decisions and / or lead certain parts of the work?) If so, how, if not, why not?
  7. Do the activities you are involved in and the work you make, feel like they are yours and belong to you? If so, how, if not, why not?
  8. Has the programme been relevant to your interests and previous experiences? If so, how, if not, why not?
  9. Has it been flexible; have plans changed to accommodate different members of the group, their interests and priorities? If so, how, if not, why not?
  10. Has there been trust between you and other members of the group? If so, how, if not, why not?
  11. Have you been able to communicate openly, collaborate and have equal input? If so, how, if not, why not?